If it seems like you’re spending a good chunk of your work week in meetings, you’re not alone.
Meetings have increased in both length and frequency over the past 50 years, according to an article published in the Harvard Business Review. One example: on average, executives spend nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.
And yet, as we spend more of our work time in meetings, we don’t necessarily feel more connected or better prepared to do our work. The same Harvard Business Review article found that 54 percent of people surveyed by the authors said that meetings resulted in losses in productivity, collaboration and well-being.
We’ve all been there.
When meetings are too frequent and badly run, it may seem like we’re in a never-ending, awkward episode of The Office. We’ve all sat through gatherings where Co-worker Eddy kept going on irrelevant tangents and shared bad jokes. We left the conference room wishing we had the last 60 minutes of our life back.
If we’re honest, sometimes the fault is our own. We can all think of times when we weren’t prepared or forgot to bring needed materials that were critical to the discussion at hand. Or maybe we showed up late, again and again. Or we invited the wrong person to attend a meeting. Repeatedly.
The deal is this, we’re going to waste time in meetings. It’s life. There are kids, parents, snow days, health concerns, and technology fails that are always going to affect the cost of meetings.
But we can do something to curb the other stuff: the poor behavior, the lack of planning, no semblance of purpose, unprepared people.
We can help the teams that are so disengaged, they sabotage themselves. We can build trust. We can help make a team feel like a team. We can work really hard. We can learn and grow. We can connect. We can celebrate.
After all, meetings are at the intersection of work and people. Meetings are where individuals come together and form a team or group that gets things done.
It makes sense that if we want to do better work together, we need better ways to meet.
On March 13, I’ll be presenting “The Culture of Meeting,” as part of our local chamber’s Business Training series. I’ll be sharing observations and techniques for how to conduct better meetings and, in the process, improve your work culture and productivity.
I hope you’ll join me in person. (You can get your tickets here.)
But, if you can’t, stay tuned. I’ll be sharing some of what I’ve discovered and experienced right here on the Reach Partners blog and newsletter.
#BetterMeetings are possible. Trust me.
Sometimes it’s hard to focus in a meeting. We’re distracted, tired, hangry, concerned about other things. It may be tempting to power through, but there are simple practices that can help us bring energy into the meeting and enhance our productivity. When we adapt to people’s needs – whether physical, social or psychological – we can get more accomplished during a meeting.
Wiggle It, Just a Little Bit
About a decade ago, researchers observed that children actually fidget to focus and learn. The more complicated the mental task, the more they needed to move.
Like those kiddos, adults appreciate fidgets too. Have a few quiet toys to occupy an active sub-conscious (and maybe prevent Dave from clicking his pen). Bring bit of nature into deep meetings by offering pine cones, shells, sticks, or switches of grass to play with or sacred items like a rosary, prayer beads, or a Hindu mala. There is evidence that adults playing with these items eases anxiety and expands their thoughts on a problem. It even works for right-brained engineers!
Stand Up, Sit Down
Kids have a lot of energy, and let’s face it: adults aren’t any different. Movement helps focus ideas. We are made to move and our work lives spent sitting on a chair and at a computer station don’t help us do our best thinking. Allow and encourage your meeting goers to stand up during a long meeting, gathering. Offer a mid-agenda stretch to wake up fatigued attendees.
Next time you have a meeting with three or fewer people and a simple agenda, try a walking meeting. Take a lap around the building or, better yet, head outside. Dedicate a lap to a topic, pause to write the next step or decision, then move along to the next agenda item.
Or gather a group to stand around a white board or an easel pad. Standing meetings typically have a short, focused agenda (think 15 minutes), but they are extremely effective.
At larger events like conferences, people are usually expected to sit for long periods of time. Place high-top tables in the back of the room to encourage movement and standing. (These have the added benefit of helping participants connect with others.) Create a schedule that allows people to move between sessions. Consider the distance between meeting room locations so that people are encouraged to move and stand.
People always bring mental baggage when they join a meeting. Unless they prepared or are leading the meeting, they are probably thinking everything except what’s on the agenda: who do they need to talk to; what groceries are needed for this weekend’s gathering; who fed the cat?
Bring the group together by pausing at the beginning of every meeting. A brief centering meditation can help everyone get focused on the work that needs to be done together.
When people show up to work as their authentic selves, they feel safe to share ideas and take risks in a group. When people feel safe, they don’t fear humiliation (because of age, gender, education, class, etc.). They’re more willing to discuss tough issues and ask for help. They feel valued and don’t worry about repercussions for misspeaking or a failure.
If you want to have a successful, focused meeting, your team members need to feel connected to each other.
In meetings were team members feel connected to each other demonstrate a higher level of dependability, innovation, executive function and overall impact.
As a leader, examine how your business culture is at work: do you feel comfortable showing up as your true self? You might feel free to be you, but do others?
Have your team take a quiz, and learn how to foster psychological safety.
It sounds simple, but snacks help to elevate the mood while building a sense of camaraderie. Don’t worry. Not every snack needs to be a high-sugar, high-fat item. Set out fresh or dried fruit, or nuts. Make sure there’s a good selection of teas and flavored waters. And, of course, set out donuts, cookies, and cake when the occasion calls for it.
Breaking bread has long been a part of holy occasions. Food is often a centerpiece of our holidays and celebrations. (Can you imagine Thanksgiving without turkey or mashed potatoes?) By incorporating snacks or a meal (lunch meetings, anyone?) into your gathering, you give people an opportunity to build relationships. Even at larger meetings or conferences, a meal or snack gives people time to converse and connect.
Next time you schedule a meeting, give one of these practices a try. Tell us how it went!
P.S. Learn more ways to bring order and productivity to your next meeting by attending “The Culture of Meeting” on March 13, 2019. The presentation by Rachel is part of the Chamber’s business training series. Buy your tickets today!
Last year we started a new tradition at Reach Partners. Every week we set aside time to read during work hours.
At first, this felt a bit indulgent. We enjoy reading but – like many others – we typically crack open our books outside traditional work hours so that we can “do” things at work. And yet, reading is one important way that we learn and grow professionally. We decided our work calendar should reflect that.
With that in mind, we’d like to share a few of the titles that we’ve read recently – and a few that we’ll be tackling soon. Drop us a line if you have any additional suggestions. Happy reading!
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Anita’s Mastermind group recently read this novel about trees and the people who love them. If you think fiction doesn’t have a place in professional development, think again. This novel gave the group plenty of opportunities to reflect on themes and lessons that are applicable to work and life. The writing is also incredibly beautiful, making it a joy to read. One sample: “A great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planning is silent and growth is invisible.” (Uh … true for people and project management, too, right?)
Where the Action Is by J. Elise Keith
Rachel has been digging into resources about meetings in preparation for an upcoming presentation. This book is golden. It’s deep, well-researched, and a joy to read. Keith breaks down every business meeting into a taxonomy that provides specific tips – not generic best practices – on formats, timing, and framing. You still may not love every (or any) meeting, but you will find value in the engagement and team performance in the meetings you do have.
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
We both can't wait to dive into Brown’s new book, Dare to Lead. We’re big fans of Brown’s research into courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her books remind us how we want to show up at work, at home, in our volunteer roles, and with our families. We’re looking forward to gleaming her insights about how we can be even better at work. After all, as Brown says, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”
yesterday I was the moon by Noor Unnahar
Anita’s teenage niece recommended this title, and when someone recommends you read poetry – you do it! Unnahar is a young woman from Pakistan. Her imagery and art journaling reflect both her age and the deep insights she has into human nature. We find that our minds expand when we explore new genres. Reading something unexpected or different challenges us to see the world – and our work – in a new light.
Meetings Suck by Cameron Herold
If you’ve ever rolled your eye at the idea of attending a meeting, don’t read this book. The good part is Herold includes a paragraph or two about attitude: go into every meeting prepared like it’s a job interview.
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
We were so inspired by this book that we traveled to Minneapolis last year to hear Parker speak in person. “The Art of Gathering” shares a human-centered approach to planning gatherings. Learn how to create meaningful, memorable experiences at work, or with family and friends. (One of her great observations: “Hosting is not democratic, just like design isn’t. Structure helps good parties, like restrictions help good design.”) Parker stresses that the most powerful gatherings begin with purpose and that every event is an opportunity to connect with others.
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott
We’ve both read this book before (here’s Anita’s review) but Scott’s work is always worth revisiting. Her seven principles for transforming critical conversations into ones of passion, integrity, authenticity, and collaboration are extremely valuable. After all, as Scott says: “the conversation is not about the relationship, the conversation is the relationship.”
Later this month, Anita will be attending an event featuring Rachel Hollis, author of the best-selling book “Girl, Wash Your Face.”
Hollis has been a hot ticket for our local chamber’s Women Connect anniversary. So big, that the event quickly sold out. Anita, and many others, were placed on a waiting list.
To accommodate growing demand for tickets, the Chamber of Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo quickly decided to move the event to a larger venue. More people could hear the author AND celebrate Women Connect. Woo-hoo!
A sold-out event is every event planner’s dream, right? If all the tickets are gone, you’ve planned an event that people want to attend. If all the tickets are gone, you’ve likely covered your costs.
But sell-outs come with their own set of challenges.
When you sell out a day or two before an event you have one option: congratulate yourself on good budgeting as you keep plugging away at the last minute details you need to complete to pull it off.
But when sell-outs happen with time to spare, you – like the Chamber – have some decisions to make.
To our extreme pleasure, we have sold out an event, twice. The first time, it happened three weeks before the event. The second time, 11 days before.
Both times we were faced with two options: 1. Open a bottle of champagne and celebrate the fact that we had a strong plan of action and our event would go on as planned; or 2. Pour a cup of coffee, grab a pencil, and consider how to accommodate more people.
Adjustments can mean a variety of considerations from the extreme – secure a new venue or add another day – to the less drastic change of furniture or room layout. Each carries additional questions that relate to settings, seating, menu, budget, staffing, and materials.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you make those decisions:
Don’t sell out strategy. Before changing an event, circle back to your strategy. Why did you want to host the event in the first place? To make money? Connect people? Educate? Go through your strategy and think through how all, not just the additional, people will be served.
Do the math. All of it. How many additional tickets do you need to sell to make financial sense of the added work it takes to reconfigure the setting for new seating and additional menu items, the material and staff time? Will everyone get what they paid for?
Consider the time. Do you have enough time and energy to pull it off? Do you have enough staff to manage the day with additional people? Can you order and ship more give-aways for the swag bag? Can you print more materials for the packet? Do you have time to construct additional custom birch-bark name badges?
Consider the place. Sure, maybe you CAN fit 75 more people in the back of the room, but really, SHOULD you make them stand?
Carry the torch. Don’t forget about messages! Can you quickly create a new plan to clearly communicate the new order? Do you need to create additional signs or activities to maximize your space or guide people to the new meeting place?
Congratulations, you’ve sold out! Take a moment to enjoy the success and then make your next move strategic.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog is adapted from one that originally ran in March 2015.
We believe we can do better together; it’s one of our values. But we also know that teams can struggle to get work done together.
Teamwork sounds good in theory. The more, the merrier, right? And yet, when it comes to accomplishing tasks, it often seems easier to do it alone.
The problem is that teams often neglect to clarify and define roles, ensuring that their work is an uphill (or circular!) battle. Without clear roles and communication, a project slows. A lack of clarity creates redundancies and conflict; it encourages passive-aggressive behavior and wastes time.
To set the stage for a successful project, you first need to be clear on roles. To do this, answer two basic questions: what and who. A team needs to understand what skills are needed and who brings them: Who needs to provide input or make recommendations? Who is authorized to make decisions? Who is responsible for carrying those decisions out?
Understanding the answers to these questions will eliminate unnecessary frustration, friction, and unproductive competition between members of a team. If your role or somebody else’s role isn’t clear to you, it’s not clear to others.
As global business consultant Tamara Erikson wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood.”
Here’s how to do it:
What Is a Role?
A role is the part or position a team member plays in a particular operation or process. Some roles are formal; many are not. Formal roles include those whose name or title describes “what” they’re responsible for. For example, a project manager or a writer may fall into this category.
Teams often have people who do not have formal titles but have skills, experience, or knowledge that contribute to the outcome of our projects. Naming these roles can become complex and yet, it’s necessary or people will fill default roles.
Unless they’re told otherwise, people will assume a role because of interests, skills, personality type, motivations, or attitude. An extrovert may become the team’s catalyst to propel a team with energy and positivity, while someone with high analytical skill will provide insights and check possibilities against realities.
These are the realities that make teams valuable. But be sure everyone understands “who” needs to do and know “what.”
Tools for Defining Roles
Our top tool for defining roles is a RACI chart.
While organizational charts show hierarchies and decision-makers, a RACI chart shows roles so much better. It’s a valuable tool when working with clients, vendors, in coalitions, or when volunteering on a board.
A RACI chart is a matrix that assigns roles and responsibilities in categories of tasks. This sets expectations for people working together.
To make a RACI chart, begin by creating a row of team members across the top. List all needed tasks, milestones, or decisions on the left side.
Now indicate who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed in the intersecting cells.
Many examples of this tool exist online. One of my favorites is this Lord of the Rings example (the article on RACI charts is great, too).
If you are striving to empower others to get their work done, it may be a very helpful tool to use at the beginning of a project at work or as a volunteer.
We find the best use is to create a RACI chart with the team. This allows the group to grow a deeper understanding of the project tasks. The more clearly understand who needs to complete a task, whose expertise is needed, and who has the final say on decisions.
Like any tool, use it, manipulate, or modify in the way that works for your team.
We’re going to let you in on a project management secret. The hardest part of any project isn’t achieving the actual outcomes – it’s managing the expectations and needs of the people who are involved.
Surprised? Probably not.
After all, if you’ve ever worked on a project, you know that one person can easily promote a plan – or derail it. That’s why identifying your stakeholders and determining how best to keep them informed is critical to the success of any project.
Stakeholder analysis is a useful tool that helps you understand stakeholders’ expectations throughout the project lifecycle. Once you understand expectations, you can communicate in a way that creates enthusiasm, trust, and excitement. These are the emotional responses you need to build the good will that will help you usher a project to the finish line.
As Mannon Deguire put it in “Greatness, A Place Beyond Stakeholders’ Expectations:” “Projects are about hope. They need to be exciting because it is the excitement that energizes the system and gives us the energy to do the work and spend the time and money to accomplish a project.”
So, how do you start?
First, take a moment to write down everyone who is a potential stakeholder.
Then take time to answer these questions for each stakeholder category:
Once you’ve completed the analysis, you’ll be able to build a plan for communication or stakeholder engagement. The plan can include key messages for each stakeholder or stakeholder group and additional details, such as the way those messages will be delivered (email, meeting, report, or phone call) and how often (weekly, daily, or project start and end).
Experience has taught us that projects are about communication, communication and communication. As long as you can inform your stakeholders in a timely, appropriate manner, they’ll remain happy and your project is likely to succeed.
Every day of the year, we are grateful for our partners and the work we do with them. This time of year, however, gives us even more excuses to reflect on what brings meaning to our work.
Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to help amazing organizations host events and complete special projects. We are grateful for the relationships we’ve built and honored to use our skills to bring value to those who connect with us.
This Thanksgiving we’d like to share a few projects that we are particularly grateful for being involved with. (And we certainly had many wonderful ones to choose from.)
Thank you, all, for being a part of Reach Partners!
Training for Better Communication
Mental Health America of North Dakota wanted to change how sensitive stories about suicide are shared. We helped plan and oversee a conference for news media and organizational spokespeople so they could learn the best way to present information on suicide.
More about the North Dakota Suicide Communications Summit.
Guiding Strategy for Event Planning
Organizations often reach out to us when they want to plan an event to market their brand. Here’s how we worked with two organizations – and how they came to different conclusions after we guided them through the planning process. Spoiler alert: Sometimes NOT hosting an event is the best way forward.
More about strategic event planning.
Partnering with The Fargo Project
When the City of Fargo partnered with a renowned artist to turn a stormwater basin into an ecological commons, the public entity needed someone to coordinate communication among its stakeholders and help with events and volunteer coordination. We stepped into this role.
More about our role with The Fargo Project.
Scouting Locations for a Commercial
We are always eager to tap our connections and networks. That’s what we did when a local marketing agency needed to identify locations for a team of out-of-town videographers to film backdrops for a commercial – fast!
More about how we found the locations.
And so many more wonderful projects and partnerships.
You likely think every project kicks off when the action begins.
In actuality, every project begins long before then.
In fact, every project starts in the same way – with a charter, whether it’s formal or informal.
With a . . . what?
If you’ve never heard about this project management work horse, it’s not surprising. A charter is one of the most important aspects of any project, but it’s also one of the least talked about deliverables.
Here’s what you need to know:
The charter is a reference document that outlines the essence of a project. It’s a road map of sorts that provides a shared understanding of the project while giving authority to the project manager to apply resources to get things done. Simply, it’s a place to gather all the basic information about your project in one place.
There is no universal formula for a charter. Not every charter has to be as formal as a contract (although it could be). But we find that it helps to document in writing the expectations, scope, objectives and deliverables required to make something happen.
After all, a charter shares the big picture of the project. It provides the basis for making decisions and communicates the project scope to the team or other stakeholders.
The components of a project charter include the expectations, scope that defines the project, objectives and deliverables and time needed to justify the project. A formal charter may note high level issues and risks, list resources, milestones and budget.
Some things to include in your next project’s charter:
Background, Purpose, Problem or Opportunity: Why are you doing the project? Why does the project fit the organization’s needs? What benefits are achieved through this project? What problem are you trying to solve? What opportunity is addressed through this project?
Goals or Objectives: What are you going to achieve and when? State what project success means and how to measure success. Use S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound) goals.
Scope: Describe the boundaries of the project: the requirements, features, functions, or key characteristics of the product or service. State what is critical for the project to be successful. What actions will you and your team take to complete the project? Sometimes it’s helpful to outline what is not included in the project scope. List the deliverables plus the final result.
Stakeholders: Identify everybody who is affected by the results or involved in the work. Know who can make decisions and has power or influence over resources.
Milestones: Include the event dates beyond the start and target end that are important.
Resources: Identify the budget, team members, materials, or tools needed for the project. With a solid project charter in place, you and those you work with will have a clearer understanding of where you’re heading and how you’re going to get there.
In any profession, there’s a list of terms that make sense to insiders but may be confusing to those outside the field.
Project management is no different.
While we pride ourselves on making things clear and easy to follow, project managers have their own vocabulary. If you understand the lingo, you’ll better be able to ask questions and follow the conversation. You’ll confidently know that you’re on the same page as everyone else.
The Project Management Institute regularly updates A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This publication describes the industry’s best practices, plus it provides a common vocabulary for consistency.
Here are 10 terms that often fall in everyday conversation about projects and project management. Know these and you’ll be versed in how to talk to a project manager.
Charter: This document authorizes the existence of a project and provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities.
Deliverable: Any unique and verifiable product, result, or the capability to perform a service that is required to produce to complete a process, phase, or project.
Project: Temporary efforts with a clear start and finish. Projects are not ongoing. Projects have an end result – something created or completed.
Project Management: The applications of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.
Requirement: A condition or capability that is required to be present in a product, service, or result.
Resource: Skilled human resources, equipment, services, supplies, commodities, materials, budgets, or funds.
Risk: An uncertain event or a condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives.
Scope: The sum of the products, services, and results to be provided as a project.
Stakeholder: An individual, group. or organization that may affect, or may be affected by, or perceive to be affected by decisions, activity, or outcome of a project.
Stakeholder Engagement (or Management) Plan: Processes, procedures, tools and techniques to effectively engage stakeholders in project decisions and execution based on the analysis of needs, interests, and potential impact.
Work Breakdown Structure: A step-by-step summary of the work the project team needs to complete to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.
It takes courage to speak to a large crowd.
Every speaker I’ve ever met spends hours perfecting their message. They search for perfect anecdotes and create meaningful slides that support their points. They’re ready to inspire and inform.
As someone who works with speakers, however, all that prep work doesn’t necessarily lead to a polished presentation. Whether you’re a speaker or someone who works regularly with them, there are a few extra steps that need to be taken to make the speaker soars instead of stutters.
Know Your Audience
Speakers know their topics, but they don’t always know their audience. Some audiences come to a presentation with a depth of knowledge and high level of interest. Others? Not so much. The best presenters ask detailed questions about who will be in the audience. They tweak their message to meet audience needs. If you’re working with a speaker, make sure they get this information even if they don’t ask for it.
Use a Mic
Always. It may be tempting to go without a microphone if the audience is small and you’re confident in your ability to project your voice. Don’t. Even a small audience can find it difficult to hear over the clatter of plates being removed from the lunch table. Or a hotel air handling system. Use a microphone. You’ll never regret it.
On a related note, be sure to dress for a microphone. Items like loose jackets, chunky necklaces, or scarves can rub against a mic and drown out your words – or at least serve as another distraction for your audience.
Check Your Tech
Allow ample time to check any technology that you will be using. If using a PowerPoint presentation, load it early so you can check for missing fonts and photos that might not transfer. (Did you know you can a save your fonts WITH your presentation? Search “Save Fonts with PowerPoint” in the “Save As” menu.)
Even checking technology is no guarantee it will work, so be prepared to punt. I once gave a presentation to about 300 emergency room doctors and nurses. I arrived ahead of time, checked the stage, loaded my slide deck, and viewed it on the screen. With 20 minutes left before I spoke, I simply put the plastic lens cover on the projector. When I took the cover off after being introduced, it became apparent that one of bulbs in the projector had burned out. Only half of the image displayed. I continued my presentation sans images.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
If you’re a speaker, identify someone who can help you on the day of the presentation. This person may not be who made the arrangements to get you there in the first place. But this person can get you water, fix your tie. This presentation buddy needs to be available and accessible.
Take a moment to check out the space where you will be speaking. If there is a stage, how do you get on and off of it? Where will you put your notes and your water? If using slides, how will you see them? If all you have is the same screen your audience is looking at, think about how to handle it. You don’t want to spend a lot of time with your back to the audience.
Most speakers will practice their presentations. But there are other elements that need to be rehearsed. Pay close attention to the transitions. Is someone introducing you? If so, what will happen when you take the stage? Do you shake hands? Hug? High five? At the end of your presentation, what happens next? If a host or emcee is taking the stage, work out ahead of time what that interaction will look like (and where!).
Take time for a short walk-through. This will guarantee the audience’s last impression won’t be one of uncertainty and awkwardness. An eight-hour conference can be run through in less than an hour if all you focus on is the transitions. I have never had a client regret this time.
Do you have handouts? Think about how you will get them distributed. If they can’t be included in conference packets ahead of time, arrive early and place them on tables. Distribution while you are presenting is often distracting. A nice stack in the middle of the table keeps them out of the way as people arrive, but still handy.
Invest in a Clock
Time. Give it some thought. If you have 45 minutes, does that include time for questions? Ten minutes of questions can go by very quickly. Keeping track of time while on stage can be more challenging than it seems. Larger conferences may provide a speaker timer near the front of the stage. If that isn’t an option, bring a battery-operated wall clock. It can be set somewhere just off stage where it is visible to you. Your cell phone seems like a great option . . . until you forget to go back to the podium to look at it!
Paying attention to these small details makes a difference. Good luck on your next presentation!